Monday, December 1, 2008

The Disasters of December 1st: AIDS and Angels (of a lesser kind)

Today is World AIDS day. There will be remembrance and mourning, speeches and proclamations. People will decry the horror of a pandemic and its effects on the entire African Continent. December 1st, 1981 was the day that science "discovered" AIDS. You will experience concern and good will from governments and individuals.

You will also experience some of the greatest hypocrisy the world has ever known.

Today is also the anniversary of a catastrophe so terrible, that it changed fire codes across the country and around the world. December 1, 1958 was the date of the Our Lady of the Angels school fire.

From Wikipedia:

A total of 92 pupils and 3 nuns lost their lives when smoke, heat, and fire cut off their normal means of escape through corridors and stairways. Many perished while jumping from second-floor windows (which were as high as a third floor would be on level ground). Another 100 were seriously injured.

The disaster was the lead headline story in American, Canadian, and European newspapers. Pope John XXIII sent his condolences from the Vatican in Rome. The severity of the fire shocked the nation and surprised educational administrators of both public and private schools. The disaster led to major improvements in standards for school design and fire safety codes.
I was eleven years old at the time and lived about a mile from the school. The image that stayed with me of the tragic event was: priests trying to bless the charred bodies while being accompanied by altar boys with smelling salts to keep from fainting.

In a way, the Catholic Archdiocese was to blame for many of the deaths: the school was very old and somehow was "grandfathered-in" when new fire safety guidelines were enacted. For 1600 students and nuns, there was only ONE fire escape. Of course, the Archdiocese was never officially accused: these were "people of God."

The Our Lady of the Angels Fire, the Magdalene Laundries, The Duplessis Orphans: all vulnerable people victimized by greed and neglect.

So what's the connection to World AIDS Day? It's this: for 25 years, people with AIDS have suffered at the hands of "people of God" by greed and neglect. Many thousands of wonderful Americans were cast out of their homes and shunned, discounted, discarded while they were sick. Led by televangelists and politicians, American Christianity diverged from the road of true compassion.

And those same leaders of righteousness and justice have never come back.

Just a thought.

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